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European Roma and Travellers Forum asks Pope to revise his rhetoric on Roma

6.11.2015 17:52
Pope Francis received more than 5 000 Romani pilgrims from the Americas, Asia and Europe at the Vatican on 26 October 2015. (PHOTO:
Pope Francis received more than 5 000 Romani pilgrims from the Americas, Asia and Europe at the Vatican on 26 October 2015. (PHOTO:

In a letter addressed to the Pope today, the President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) Mr Gheorghe Raducanu welcomes the Catholic Church's recent initiatives to combat discrimination against Roma, Sinti and Travellers, but regrets that some of the Pope's well-intentioned remarks are likely to instead promote the sentiments that promote such discrimination by the majority population. “Asking the audience to be good Christians 'avoiding all that is not worthy of this name: lies, frauds, swindles, altercation', is excellent advice to be addressed to all Christians but, in the context of an audience with Roma and Sinti, this advice seems to be addressed exclusively to them," the letter notes.

The phrasing of the Pope’s advice to the Roma on education was equally problematic, according to the ERTF, namely: “your children have the right to go to school, do not prevent them from doing so.” Such a statement blames Romani parents for their children's low participation rate in the schools and disregards the difficulties Romani parents face, such as the bullying of Romani children in the schools by their schoolmates and even teachers, lack of money to pay for school lunches and supplies, lack of public transportation from Romani neighborhoods to the schools, non-Romani principals' refusal to enroll Romani children, and segregated schools or segregated classes inside schools.

The ERTF believes the Pope is not aware that such characterizations actually promote the discrimination of Romani people "by those who will use his statement to justify their racism. We regret that this advice can be interpreted as blaming the victims of marginalization rather than the authorities who are responsible for this state of affairs."

The Pope also asked the Roma and Sinti not to “give the media and public opinion reason to speak ill” of them, which makes it sound as if the media is legitimately speaking ill of the Roma and Sinti. In fact there is a great deal of information available about media outlets cashing in on the Roma by engaging in sensationalized reporting about them that is biased or even completely fabricated and intended to spread fear of them.

The ERTF regrets that the Pope did not take the opportunity of the Romani pilgrimage to celebrate the historical contributions of Romani people to Christianity or Romani saints. The letter also notes that "He could have offered an apology for the persecution and witch hunts of Romani people since the Middle Ages."

Raducanu also says that instead of chastising the Roma during their pilgrimage, the Pope should "should instead have chastised the members of his universal church who are actively preventing Romani children from going to school. He could have brought attention to those who are actively keeping Romani children away from their parents. Unfortunately we did not hear any message of hope or inspiration or a criticism of the treatment of poverty, regardless of the national origin of the poor. Nor did we hear a condemnation of anti-Gypsyism, which is at the root of all these problems. Instead of singling them out the Pope should have made a call for solidarity among Christians, both Roma and non-Roma."

Lastly, the ERTF letter notes that "The Catholic Church seems to be unaware of the heterogeneity of the Roma world, that the word 'gypsy' is considered as pejorative by most communities, and that the overwhelming majority of Roma, Sinti and affiliated groups are sedentary." The letter nevertheless closes with a statement of "wholehearted" support for the Catholic Church's efforts to further Romani integration. 

agw, ERTF
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